Mental Illness Awareness Week Revisited

While Breast Cancer Awareness casts a long pink shadow over the month of October, it is not the only issue that we need to be aware of this month.  In case you missed it, October 3-9 marked this year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, with each day of week focusing on a particular mental illness:

The week culminated with World Mental Health Day on Sunday, October 10.  Recent statistics remind us that mental illness affects many of us.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • Mental illness affects:
    • 44% of LGB adults
    • 32% Mixed/Multiracial adults
    • 22% of White adults
    • 19% of American Indian or Alaska Native
    • 18% of Latinx adults
    • 17% of Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander adults
    • 17% of Black adults
    • 14% of Asian adults
  • Annual prevalence among U.S. adults, by condition:
    • Anxiety Disorders: 19.1% (estimated 48 million people)
    • Major Depressive Episode: 7.8% (19.4 million people)
    • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: 3.6% (estimated 9 million people)
    • Bipolar Disorder: 2.8% (estimated 7 million people)
    • Borderline Personality Disorder: 1.4% (estimated 3.5 million people)
    • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 1.2% (estimated 3 million people)
    • Schizophrenia: <1% (estimated 1.5 million people)

Even though Mental Illness Awareness Week has concluded, the work to destigmatize mental illness and to prioritize overall mental health and well-being continues.  Sometimes, when we know someone who is living with a mental illness, we do not know what to do or how to help.  Here are some ways to show your support:

  • Educate yourself.  In order to better understand what someone is experiencing, learn more about mental illness, in terms of the signs and symptoms and treatment options.  Ask the person diagnosed with the mental illness to help you gain insight into their experience and how to best support them. 
  • Talk about it.  There is a saying in twelve step groups that our secrets keep us sick.  There remains a great deal of secrecy, stigma, and shame around mental illness, and we need to make this as much of a part of the conversation as we do when talking about physical illnesses.  Part of healing is being able to talk about the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden with people who offer unconditional acceptance and understanding.
  • Listen.  Do not assume that you know what someone is dealing with or how someone is feeling.  Take the time to listen, without judgment, without the intent of giving advice, and without preconceived notions.  Actively listening can help that person to feel seen, heard, and supported, which is comforting and empowering.
  • Support treatment.  Offer encouragement to seek treatment and to follow through with treatment recommendations.  You can offer moral support as they schedule an appointment with a mental health professional,  accompany them to counseling sessions, help them to set up a system to remember to take prescribed medications, and talk with them about how treatment is going.  Having someone in their corner can make a significant difference in seeking help and sticking with it.
  • See them for who they are.  Someone with a mental illness is a human being, not a diagnosis or a label.  Do not lose sight of their humanity and individuality or treat them with anything less than dignity, respect, and compassion. 

Just like Breast Cancer Awareness Month has taken on a greater significance for me, since being diagnosed with breast cancer, mental illness and mental health in general hit close to home, and not only as a mental health professional.  At the age of 18, I was hospitalized for depression and began my first foray into the world of mental health treatment.  At age 43, I, again, was hospitalized for depression, along with anxiety, and resumed treatment.  Interestingly, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 47, I received more support than I did when diagnosed with depression and anxiety, which reflects the ongoing stigma associated with mental health.  That has to change.

Being in this profession and having received the appropriate treatment do not make me immune from bouts of depression and anxiety.  I no longer am receiving treatment for depression or anxiety, but managing my mental health, just like my physical health, is part of my daily routine.  My hope is that by continuing to share information about mental illness and a bit of my story that others will benefit in some way.  You definitely are not alone, and there is help and hope. 

For more information and support, contact these mental health resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1-800-950-NAMI (6255)
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-9255
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 1-877-726-4727

That’s another story . . .

Categories: That's Another Story

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